Preventing Overtraining in High School Baseball Players
By Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC and Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E
Research indicates that there is a significant risk of overtraining among HS athletes in all sports if proper guidelines are not established and followed. Overtraining occurs over three stages: 1) excessive training; 2) overreaching; and 3) overtraining.
- Excessive training occurs when athletes are subjected to an unnecessary high intensity or volume of training. We see this in the weight room when training loads are too high or too many reps are performed in a workout. We also see it when players are asked to run too far, run too many sprints and/or run too fast with inadequate recovery between reps and sets in a training session. It also occurs after extra-inning games, double headers or when there is a sudden increase in the number of games played per week or over a weekend. This is a temporary condition that lasts a few days and is reversed with adequate rest and proper nutrition. It is not a direct cause of overtraining, but can be the first step in its development.
- Overreaching is a brief period (1-2 weeks) of heavy overload without adequate recovery. The combination of high loads and lack of rest exceeds the ability of the athlete to adapt. This is the result of subjecting players to excessive training too often and too long. Performance decreases, but it is relatively short-term, lasting several days to several weeks. It takes more time to recovery from overreaching than from excessive training. This is the second stage of overtraining caused by chronic excessive training and inadequate rest.
- Overtraining is the point at which an athlete starts to experience negative physiological changes (fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, chronic joint or muscle pain, more or less sleep than usual, loss of appetite and weight, increased injuries, illness or infections) and chronic performance decrements. These can last weeks, months or longer and require longer recovery and regeneration periods.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 60% of injuries among athletes in all sports is the result of overtraining. Recommendations on how to limit or prevent overtraining include the following:
- Train for strength three times per week with alternate days of heavy, light and moderate loads. Adaptation occurs during recovery and it takes longer to recover from higher intensity loads. Constantly working with high resistance prevents adequate recovery, can cause CNS fatigue and increase the risk of muscle, joint and growth plate injury. Growth plates do not fully close in some males until ages 16-18.
- If you use a 4-day split (MW and TTh), make the first and fourth (M and Th) workouts heavy and the other two moderate or light. This will avoid have two consecutive heavy workouts. You can also lift on MW and work on running mechanics, acceleration, speed, agility, body weight, PWC or plyometrics on T and Th. This will provide two heavy and two moderate to light days to help ensure adequate recovery.
- Balance throwing, hitting and running intensity with intensity in the weight room. Players get better in practice, not in the weight room. Don’t schedule high intensity training sessions on the same day as high intensity skill sessions.
- Schedule lighter workout days before competition. The mechanics of pitching, hitting, throwing, fielding, running, etc. change when players are fatigued which decreases performance and increases the risk of injury.
- Use a periodization model in which the goals of training vary to meet the needs of the training year. Vary the exercises, intensity, frequency, volume and rest time to accomplish the goals of each training phase. One program will not accomplish all goals.
- Avoid scheduling intense acceleration, speed, agility, plyometric or work capacity days on the same day or the day after high-intensity weight training sessions. Acceleration, speed, agility and plyometrics have a high CNS demand. Performing them in a fatigued state will not produce optimal results. Players will get tired, but not better.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Orthopedic Association recommend that players engage in training, skill work and competitions no more than 18 hours per week. If a player is participating in fall baseball and playing two games on Saturday and Sunday, this takes up 8 of the recommended 18 hours leaving 10 hours per week for conditioning and skill work. This is, of course, assuming that players don’t have fall team practice sessions and/or work with hitting, fielding or pitching coaches.
- Monitor how much work each player is doing outside of school training and adjust training loads whenever possible.
- Administer a daily wellness questionnaire to help determine the sleep, nutrition and stress level of each player to help when planning individual and team workouts. The school IT department should be able to help students and coaches access a wellness program via i-phone to speed up the process.
- Schedule talks and send emails to parents. Discuss overtraining and the importance of rest, recovery and proper nutrition with players and their families at team orientation sessions. Provide the signs of overtraining to parents and players in e-mails and encourage parents to recognize and contact the coaches whenever they suspect that their son might be at risk throughout the season, not just in the introductory orientation session. Tell parents that approximately 75% of the players who start any sport drop out by age 14. Tell them that many players drop out because of low-grade pain that is actually the early stage of overuse injury. The pain is seldom diagnosed as overuse because many players tend to quit rather than deal with the pain.
- Emphasize the importance of rest, recovery and diet by scheduling lighter conditioning and skill days.
Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers. Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a S&C consultant for the Texas Rangers, Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.